Growing up in free-wheeling Southern California in the 1970′s, Norman Ollestad was constantly pushed by his father to conquer his fears and ski, surf or play hockey with all of the energy he could muster and to play to win. His father’s uncompromising expectations helped Norman survive a horrific plane crash. He tells, in alternating chapters, about his life and adventures with his father and then the story of how, at age 11, he was able to survive a crash that killed 3 adults, among them his father, and went on to find his way to rescuers.
Beyond this being a story of survival, it is the story of the intricate relationships between sons and fathers–the love and loyalty but also the resentment of forced expectations and guilt over failures. Ollstad’s father taught him to be Crazy for the Storm – to live life to the fullest and not to be afraid of challenges, and instilled in him the persistence and courage needed to survive. Ollestad has a gift for drawing the reader into his experiences–anticipating the curl of a wave while surfing, seeing the snow glitter on a powdery downhill run, feeling the ice cutting into his hands as he tries to climb down a rock wall to safety after the crash, the great feeling of loss and guilt as he leaves his fathers body on the mountain in order to save himself. The book ends with Ollestad examining his relationship with his own young son and trying not to impose his own passions and wishes on his child, despite wanting to instill in his own son the same strength of will that his father instilled in him.
Ollestad writes with wonderfully detailed description of the places he went and the experiences he had with his father, as well as of the love they shared. The story illustrates the diffculties of a child of divorce trying to relate to both a father and a step-father, each pushing him in a different direction. It also is a thought-provoking look at the fine line between a personal challenge and adrenaline-rush inducing but dangerous behavior.